Dear PoPville – Bank Advice

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Speaking of banks

“Dear PoPville,

I’ve been with a major bank (BoA, for those who *must* know) since I moved to DC ~9 years ago. I’ve recently been disappointed with their customer service and the randomness with which they have decided to start assessing maintenance fees for my accounts. I’m wondering if PoPville has had good/bad experiences with any local credit unions/banks and can provide recommendations.

I do travel for business domestically quite a bit, so I’m particularly interested in how folks have faired with having their accounts with a smaller bank while traveling. Big ATM fees, etc.? I’m also happy to learn more about experiences with the other big banks like Wells Fargo, especially now that their…lovely? colors have sprung up all over downtown in recent weeks.”

80 Comment

  • I use Schwab online bank (High-Yield Investor Checking), since it reimburses ATM fees anywhere in the world. They also offer 0.2% interest on your checking account. It used to be a lot more, but it’s still better than nothing. Definitely better than BoA.

    • How much in investments does Schwab require you keep with them to have free withdrawals?

      • I was required to put my initial deposit into a brokerage account that is linked with my checking account, although I was able to move that money to my checking account within a matter of days, and all deposits now go into my checking account. I haven’t used the brokerage account since. Not sure if the rules have changed since I set up my account a few years ago.

      • I was able to open the free checking and keep the brokerage account empty. I’ve since made one or two trades-but I don’t think you are required to make any.

        Also they have a great iphone app where you can deposit checks/keep track of investments

    • I use the same and love it. Free ATM fees, free checking. It’s wonderful.

      Only downside is its only online so you have to mail in checks and cant deposit cash (maybe you can but I wouldn’t mail large sums of cash).

      • Now you can deposit checks via your smartphone! 🙂

        • You can also deposit the checks into your brokerage account and then transfer to checking or savings. Sometimes the people working the front desk at Schwab have the ability to set this up for you. It may take a day or two but generally I’m depositing small checks so I don’t care – its still way more convenient than mailing it anywhere.

  • I’m with Wachovia but I try to manage my cashflow tightly and I can tell Im about to be super-annoyed with Wells Fargo, which will cash out of your account for bill pay 4-5 days before the transaction takes place (as opposed to Wachovia which was day of).

    • My friends in retail banking say all the Wachovia employees HATE wells fargo. He said if you want to rob a bank, rob a wachovia, because no one on site would care.

    • It’s a small complaint, but I hate the way transactions show up on the Wells Fargo statements. The descriptions were so much clearer with Wachovia. However, I do like the “Money Map” feature that shows your spending habits.

      • All the banks are doing this now. It’s not a unique feature of wells fargo.

      • Actually, Bank of America is being sued in a class action because of the way it posts transactions to BoA customers’ accounts. Ever notice how some transactions post a week after they’re made, and some post same day? Well, the suit attacks this method of posting transactions because it frequently causes overdrafts of accounts because customers think they have more money in their account than they do.

        • The customers are going to lose. And they’re idiots.

          • I’ll be interested to see what happens. Obviously a judge thought there were genuine legal and factual issues if the case is moving forward – so I wouldn’t assume the customers are idiots.

          • No, they’re idiots. It’s not the bank’s job to keep track of your finances, it’s their job to hold your money.

        • Wachovia does this too. They would hold some of my debits for up to 7 days then debit a large withdrawal first (even though technically the large withdrawal was made at a later date) and then charge me overdraft fees for all the smaller withdrawals they had been holding. Yes, I am bad at managing money but I thought this was really unfair because it resulted in maximum overdraft fees that technically were not overdrafts at the time the purchases were made.

          I am now with a credit union and much more content-and consequently in the black more often.

    • Wachovia had exceptional customer service. I wonder if that’s changed since the switch to WF?

    • I’m also with Wachovia and I’m super-confused about how the bill pay will actually change. Anyone know why the funds will now be withdrawn 5 days earlier? No one has been able to answer this when I’ve queried the tellers.

  • look into Ally, I’ve had them for about a year and I’m really impressed. The first time you call customer service you’ll know why. Plus reimbursed ATM fees, no minimums, good rates (for a bank), free checks, the list goes on.

  • Look into Eagle bank. It’s a small operation, but they’re aggressively growing.

  • I have been with Congressional Federal Credit Union (CFCU) since 1993.

    Interest on my CC has not changed since and has remained at single digit interest as well as all loans over the years.

    Only challenge is you must be invited to join by another member.

    Oh yeah, never any minimum balances required and only fees are for overdrafts…

    Good luck

  • USAA is the best bank in the country consistently and is always rated best in the JD Power rankings. They treat you like you matter even if you have $37.50 in your savings account.

    The only downside is you or one of your parents had to be in the military.

    • Not true. Anyone can join the bank, but some products (like insurance) require you to either be active or retired military personnel or invited by a family member who has an account.

      • Can you provide a link or any info to support this? I’m a 15+ year member of USAA, and have never heard that the savings portion of USAA has different eligibility requirements than the insurance portion.


          go all the way to the bottom under “Becoming a Member”:

          “In addition, certain products, including investments, financial planning, life insurance and banking products — checking, savings, CDs and credit cards — are available to the public.”

          That’s more stuff than I actually thought.

          • Interesting. Thanks for the link.

            I would wholeheartedly recommend USAA then. They rebate all ATM fees, have a great www site, have mobile check deposit from your smart phone, etc.

          • Wow, I didn’t know the public could do all those things with USAA. That’s great!

            I second the rave about USAA. They are the best bank ever. You can do almost everything online and when we do need to call and talk to them they have excellent customer service, no ATM fees on their end and they rebate whatever the other bank charges (up to 10 or 15 dollars a month), you can do deposits on your smart phone, you can set up bill pay to send checks for you automatically (I have this set up for my mortgage), etc. I highly recommend them!

    • Agreed! I LOVE USAA, and do my banking, credit, and insurance through them. They have amazing customer service (I’ve never waited on hold more than a min. or two, and their reps aren’t on commission, so they will give good advice that’s in your interest, even if it’s not in theirs). ATM withdrawals are free, and they even refund the other banks withdrawal fees on up to 6 transactions a month. Online banking though them is great. I seriously can’t praise them enough.
      I also have a checking/savings account through Congressional FCU for shared household expenses, and find them very convenient, and they don’t charge crazy fees. I think that most credit unions are part of some sort of national credit union association that allows you to use any credit union ATM without fees (handy when traveling), but I don’t know the details.

      • I just switched all my finances to USAA. I’m not able to do the smart phone deposit thing, but I can easily go to the UPS store (yes, UPS) downstairs and deposit checks. Also, not only do they refund fees at ATMs (up to a certain amount per month), but I’m now seeing ATMs popping up in CVS. Convenient! I also like that I can easily deposit money into a housemate’s account straight from my USAA account, on their website, with no hassles.

  • Schwab all the way. ATM refunds, no foreign conversion fees, no minimum balance, interest(albeit low) on checking. They have check deposits via cell phone now so they clear the same day if deposited by 4. Absolutely positively best bank ever. I love them and have had them for over 4 years now.

    • +1000. I switched from BofA to Schwab over a year ago. I feel weird saying this so enthusiastically, but I LOVE this bank. Every time you call on the phone, the person (yes, a person) is cheerful, nice, and genuinely helpful. Seriously. After telling our friends how great Schwab is, nearly all of them have switched too.
      In case this hasn’t been mentioned, they reimburse all of your ATM fees. Now every ATM in the goddamn world is my ATM, even the shady one at the Shell station at Georgia and Upshur.

  • Banks are fascist. If possible, go with a credit union; they offer much better terms, rates, etc.

    I almost never use ATMs when traveling. If I did, that might present a snag.

    I’d say go with a credit union for most of your banking needs, and for your traveling ATM needs, maybe try keeping another account on the side at one of the national banks.

    Or maybe use a credit card instead of cash when traveling… if you make ATM withdrawals infrequently enough, a credit union membership with the occasional charge for using a non-network ATM might still come out better than a fascist national bank that has branches and ATMs everywhere but charges you for checks, etc., etc.

    • BTW… I’d like to note that I don’t in any way mean to cast aspersions on bank employees.

      It’s just that banks are out to benefit their shareholders, whereas credit unions are out to benefit their customers.

  • I’ve been very happy with my experiences at PNC – high yield interest rates on their virtual wallet savings accounts, and whenever I’ve had to go to a physical bank, the staff are delightful.

    • I’d second the PNC nomination – and they also reimburse ATM fees like some of the other places folks mentioned.

    • PNC is fantastic. I have a credit card with them currently and my interest rate has been at 0% (though I’m still in my first year. Also, as long as you have $700 direct deposited each month, they reimburse ALL atm fees you incur. I have found their service to be absolutely amazing. And they promised me that I would never incur any fees, ever as long as I don’t overdraft. Give them a try. I left Bank of America earlier this year for the exact reasons you stated above.

    • PNC is a bailout bank. So is Wells Fargo. Periodic Wall St raids of the federal treasury are not ok. Show your displeasure by moving your money to a non-bailout bank (USAA is a good option) or a credit union. I’m speaking here as a former PNC customer who loved the free ATMs. You know what? There are better, less evil options. BTW, did you know what Wells Fargo did with their $25 billion bailout? They bought Wachovia. Shady shit there. Google Wells Fargo bailout Wachovia and check that top link to the CBS story.

      • Also, dont fly on any American air carriers, buy a GM or Chrysler (make sure you dotn buy a chrysler twice as often), dont take out a mortgage that is backed by fannie or freddie, oh… and most importantly dont ride on a train that runs on the NE Corridor.

  • I have an account with Burke & Herbert, which is based in Northern Virginia. I’ve been very impressed with their customer service and they reimburse ATM fees for an unlimited number of transactions at other banks’ ATMs. They don’t have the flashiest website around, but for basic banking, it’s fine.

    I’ve also had USAA come highly recommended. I don’t think for checking or savings accounts you actually need to have any connection to the military, but I’m sure their website would tell you.

  • I like NARFE premiere federal credit union. I think you have to work for the government. You can do much of your banking on line and if you have direct deposit, use the debit card 12xmonth, and e-statements you can get 2.02% APY on checking. Their money market rates are better than most too. They reimburse a certain number of ATM fees and if you use another credit union ATM, then there is no fee. They are not physically handy, but I’ve had no problem with deposits at other shared credit unions and when I call to ask a question, I get a real person

    • I have them, too. You don’t have to work for the govt, but you do have to fall into an eligibility category (mine is, randomly enough, that I am a donor to the National Low Income Housing Coalition…it’s a good org and I would donate anyway, but this is an additional perk).

      The interest rate is unbeatable and I like that you get assigned an employee personal service–I don’t call and talk with a random person, I call and speak with Aimee and she knows who I am (and if she’s out I speak with someone else). I’m by NO means a high roller but they make me feel like one.

      The only downside I’ve found is when I lost my debit card. They cancelled it promptly, but they charge $10 for a new one and it takes 7-10 days. At Bank of America, you could get a new temporary card the next day if you went to a branch and it was free.

  • Try Pentagon Federal Credit Union. If you aren’t directly affiliated with DoD, you can join by signing up for a vareity of military service organizations. They have great loan rates, a great website, and a network of international ATMs.

  • claire

    I’ve used M&T since my parents first set up an account for me there, and they’ve always treated me rather well. Never been charged any account fees; I was on some sort of promotion when I first got the account, I think, so although they do actually have a monthly fee, they reimburse it – suspect you could get an account with a similar promotion. When I accidentally had my debit card ran as debit instead of credit and was charged a fee for it (via the store, I think), they reimbursed it after a quick phone call.

    I also have a credit card through them and it’s nice to have everything in one place and be easily able to pay off the card from my account. Rewards are so-so. Oh, and they reimburse up to $2 in ATM fees which is decent. I think the customer service is better than some other banks because they’re a local bank.

  • Credit unions are the way to go. Never an issue.

  • For the love of god, drop BofA, Capitol One, and Wells Fargo. All they’re interested in doing is sucking your savings away until they can make money again risking your money on the stock market.

    As long as the stock market sucks, they’ll be looking to siphon money out of your account one way or another.

  • I love credit unions – I even got my Stafford loan through one because I preferred the personal service.

    If you know any staffers (and who doesn’t?) you can be “sponsored” to join the Senate Credit Union. This probably works for other federal credit unions as well. I think the rules state you have to be a family member or part of their household, but they never asked me to prove that (my roommate sponsored me) so it might not really matter.

    • Totally agree. My one foray into corporate banks and away from my beloved credit unions was a disaster. I use Virginia Credit Union because I am a state employee but have used different credit unions over the years. Always personal service, great interest rates, and not as many hidden fees or charges. If you can make this happen do it.

  • I’ve had ING Direct for 5 years and love it. It works well for when youa re travelling… ATMS at CVS, 7-Eleven etc are free. Also, if you have a 401K or other investments, you can tether it to an investing account at ShareBuilder.

    Then you can get a local bank and link them up… Signal Financial is a local credit union. There are others.

    • +1 for Signal Financial. If your banking needs are simple it should work out. Their membership policy is pretty liberal:

      “If you or a family member live, work, attend school, or worship in Washington DC or inside the Beltway in Prince George’s County* or are employed by one of our Select Employee Groups, you are eligible to be a member of the credit union and open your account.”

      They used to be called Washington Telephone Federal Credit Union, which was the AT&T/C&P Telephone credit union back in the day. (I am a former Verizon employee). It has since opened up to many others. If you need to bank “in person” you can go to several branches throughout the area. Also, you can go at many other credit unions via a “shared branch” arrangement. I used to go to a State Department CU occasionally b/c it was convenient. This region has tons of credit unions. You can use most of their ATMs for free. You can use “Plus” “Star” and “Co-Op Network” machines with no fee. There is an online finder for ATMs, I think they have a phone ap to find them too. I live in Alexandria, and when in doubt 7-11 always have machines in my network. I very rarely need to visit a bank in person, most x-actions are electronic, or I can just mail them checks for deposit. I have good credit, and the last time I bought a new car I got an excellent loan rate. My only complaint is the online access is a little crude, and getting it set up for automatic download into Quicken was tricky, but it works.

      Hope this helps. I am very much a fan of credit unions and haven’t been a customer of a commercial bank for about 15 years now.

  • PNC! PNC! PNC!

    also Pentagon Fed Credit Union- i use both and am very happy with them both, but Penfeds lack of ATMs can be a bit of a PITA.

  • I have a TD checking account and an ING savings. I am tempted sometimes by the ING checking account, but I do like TD. I have had my account with TD and before that Commerce for almost 10 years. They are open every day of the week and I have never had to deal with fees or anything. They also think I am still a student, so no minimum balance. The only downside is that they don’t have a ton of local locations so if I get checks they are a bit annoying to deposit.

    As for using an ATM out of the area, if you have a debit card, going into a local pharmacy or grocery store, buying something for $0.50 and then getting cash back is always an option.

  • I was really happy with Chevy Chase Bank for years, but since the Capital One acquisition, I’ve seen things start to go downhill. Even the little things, like having to run all over the local branch just to find a working f**king pen to fill out my deposit slip. They might have the most ATMs in the region, but the ones closest to my office are often broken. And their investment people are complete idiots.

    The one good thing is that if you have the platinum level banking package, there are no fees for anything, including ATM transactions worldwide.

  • I loved SunTrust. They were completely hassle free, no hidden fees, easy to work with, etc. There is, obviously, the downside of them only being in the Southeast, but I got around that by visiting the ATM before trips and if I needed something extra while in a Suntrust-fee area I would just go to CVS/Target/etc. and get cashback.

    I switched to Bank of America when I moved to NYC recently, and I hate them.

    • SunTrust just changed their fee structure too.

    • I’ll be leaving suntrust soon. They just instituted a monthly fee on their “free” checking account.

      Garbage. The bank was nothing special anyway. I only used it because it was convenient.

    • I used to be a big fan of SunTrust too but didn’t appreciate my debit card randomly switching from Visa to MasterCard earlier this year (okay there’s probably no difference, but still, annoying!) OR the recent news that I will now be paying for my free checking. Problem is that hubby has Wells Fargo and I am not itching to jump on board that (possibly-no-longer-sinking) ship either . . . I have ING for savings & am lobbying to get a joint checking account there, but hubby doesn’t like having a bank w/out brick & mortar branches.

  • Thanks much to the OP for raising this subject! I got a lot of good leads and really appreciate this information.

  • Do any local credit unions (that can be reasonably joined) have good online bill pay options?

  • i use both apple federal credit union and wachovia (err, wells fargo now).

  • Many banks are futzing around with their fees. Because new laws limit what they can charge for certain things (mostly overdraft type stuff, and debit card fees), they’re making it up elsewhere. You’re getting screwed because well meaning idiots in congress sought to protect deadbeats.

  • Ugh. I have Bank of America (because of convenience, and now laziness) and Merrill Lynch for my retirement account. I didn’t realize ML was owned by BofA until they took $25,000 out of my account without checking with me (by mistake – there was no reason for them to do so) three days before we were closing on a house (which is why all that money was in there in the first place). You can imagine the heart attack I had when I saw all that money gone.

    The kicker? When I had to set up automatic debits for my retirement account shortly afterwards, I had to fill out three pages of forms, because apparently they can’t withdraw funds without explicit permission.

  • I use Navy Fed Credit Union…after having BoA and it is soooo much better. Their website is easy and hassle free and I love their online bill pay and pending charges everything is very accurate and day of type stuff. I am a little OCD about my checking account and I feel like I always know exactly how much money I actually have…unlike with BoA where I would have to guess or really balance my own checkbook (the oldfashioned way) so I knew how much money I had available.

  • Bank fo Georgetown is real good. Have a checking account with no fees. No interest as well but that is pretty standard. Use there ATM’s no fee. Use some other ATM and get reimbursed at the end of month up to 5 withdrawals

  • I have been really happy with State Farm Bank (associated with State Farm Insurance). It’s online/phone/mail-only. They have unlimited free ATM use anywhere, smartphone check deposit that posts within 24 hrs (or free FedEx overnight), and otherwise very good customer service. The smartphone app is very good (iOS and Android) and their automated phone system is fine. 24 hour live operators are always very friendly and helpful. If you don’t need cash handling or a couple other retail bank fixtures (e.g. you can’t deposit cash, you can’t get money orders or get something notarized).

  • Credit Union! Join any in the area either at your place of work if they offer one, or a general membership CU like Signal.

    Once you are in, you are part of the huge COOP network and can access locations and ATMs across the country for free.

  • Bank with State Farm for the past 5-6 years. Love it. It is an online only/virtual bank, but I am refunded all ATM fees, if you need to deposit a check you can print a free Fedex label, or mail it in for free. There is no minium for checking accounts, I think you have to at least have $100.00 in your savings over a month long period?

    Best part, funds are available immediately.

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